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Contracts with private firms running Direct Provision should not be renewed - Refugee Council

There are currently more than 7,000 people living in Direct Provision.

CONTRACTS WITH PRIVATE companies running Direct Provision centres should not be renewed in 2021, the Irish Refugee Council has said. 

‘Implementing Alternatives To Direct Provision’ – a report drawn up the Refugee Council and Campbell Tickell housing consultants – has made a number of recommendations about how the Government should transition away from the controversial system of accommodating asylum seekers.

It comes as the Government prepares to publish the long-waited ‘White Paper’ for ending Direct Provision, which was set up in 1999 and has seen over €1 billion paid to private firms to house asylum seekers in often sub-standard accommodation. 

There are currently more than 7,000 people living in Direct Provision. 

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The report says that responsibility for accommodation should remain with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the short-term but should eventually move to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and outlines eight potential housing models the Government could pursue. 

“̓This is a housing policy issue and it belongs in a Government Department with oversight of housing policy in Ireland,” the report states. 

The Refugee Council report recommends that “a blend” of housing models should be utilised by the Government, including community-led and regeneration, Approved Housing Bodies and State-built accommodation centres. 

The report also says that existing contracts with private companies – a number of which have run Direct Provision centres for years -  should not be renewed. 

It also says that the use of emergency accommodation – hotel and B&Bs – should end by December. 

There are currently 39 Direct Provision centres in Ireland, most of which are privately-run, and more than 25 hotels and B&Bs contracted by the State to house asylum seekers. 

There are 15 contracts due for renewal in 2021. 

The report comes after an Expert Advisory Group – chaired by former European Secretary General of the European Commission Dr Catherine Day – last year said that Direct Provision should end by 2023 and be replaced by a three-stage system of State-owned centres. 

The ‘Day Report’ was criticised by The Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government. 

The Housing Department in its submission raised concerns that about how accommodation would be obtained for the existing 7,685 people living in Direct and an additional 3,500 asylum seekers expected to arrive annually. 

It claimed that housing asylum seekers in own-accommodation would lead to greater levels of homelessness and said it would “create a situation whereby the housing needs of vulnerable groups are being treated in a different manner” and would result in homeless families “competing for accommodation with families and individuals in Direct Provision”. 

The Refugee Council has said that – despite concerns raised by the Department – officials “must accept that some existing supply will have to be used to house international protection applicants”.

“While we dispute some of the observations of the [Housing Department] about the Advisory Group report, it makes valid points around the possible lack of capacity in the private rented sector and the need to identify new streams of accommodation supply,” the Refugee Council report states. 

It said, however, that “swift implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Group are crucial, in particular around reducing processing times and the ‘case processing’ recommendation so that as few people as possible are brought across from the old system to the new.”

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In December, Minister Roderic O’Gorman confirmed to TheJournal.ie that the Government’s plan to end Direct Provision would be delayed until February. 

“This report aims to bridge the gap and build on the recommendations of the Advisory Group Report published in October 2021 and the Government White Paper due in February,” said Irish Refugee Council CEO Nick Henderson. 

Liz Zacharias, Senior Consultant with Campbell Tickell stated: “The present arrangements for housing and support do not work well, either for asylum seekers themselves or for those operating within the current Direct Provision system.

“We believe these have the potential to create a far better system of support for asylum seekers and refugees who are seeking to build a new life in Ireland, away from persecution, ill treatment, war and conflict.”

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